Hong Kong in the 60s
Hong Kong, dubbed as " The Pearl Of Orient ". A place full of opportunities and activities. A place combined with fading traditional Chinese culture as well as updated Western cultures. A typical modern international financial city. However, at the pop music forefront, from 70s until today, the term " International " was being interpreted in another format. "Localized" will be more the focus and direction as far as the majority of citizens were concerned. Since the mid-70s, local canto-pop music was masterminding the whole concept of Hong Kong music productions.
The music industry purely concentrated on the moulding of new individual Canto Pop teenage idols, while faded out and middle age singers were purely for nostalgia purposes. Bands were too luxurious an item to own and promote. As far as Hong Kong pop music listeners and producers were concerned, there was only today and tomorrow, but no yesterday. English songs were labelled as only sub-culture, behindCantonese as well as Mandarin.
As far as the world goes, this of course was quite normal and just a natural progression, as the city developed, people got more confident in themselves and felt more proud of their own way of expression, their own language, their own mind concept. Was that a good thing or a bad thing ? Different people will have different opinions, but history tells us that the more languages and voices there are, the better it will be usually. Talking about history, in terms of the pop music history of Hong Kong, there was once a period which was very special and very genuine. Yet when time moved forward, it was not much mentioned and remembered anymore. It seems that it was just a heat of the moment and had long faded out from the mind of most of the
Hong Kong people.
Which is really sad to see. Because that period from a historical point of view, and musical point of view, was a very unique and important phase of Hong Kong pop culture for it signified the change. A special time for the Hong Kong music scene. It was never like that before and afterwards. We are talking about the 60s Band Scene of Hong Kong. specifically, the period between 1964 to 1969.
The 60s, a golden era of pop music around the world, the time of the birth of "Beatles ", " Rolling Stones ", " Searchers ", " Herman's Hermits ", " Hollies ", " Yardbirds " and others. It changed completely the whole concept of western pop music culture, the evolution from singer/vocal groups in the 50s to electrified beat group in the 60s had a huge impact on youngsters around the world. The old walls were down and the young generation just went wild.
The Beatles passed through Hong Kong in 964. It signified the birth of the golden age of local band scene in Hong Kong. From 19664 to 1968, there were tens to hundreds of bands appearing in the local market. They sung their songs in English language and played their own instruments. Cantonese songs and Mandarin songs at that time were not touched by these bands, cause it was not hip and belong to another world. Compare with the present. It's funny, isn't it ?
Since the late 50s, English pop songs were already the main voice of the young people.
Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, Neil Sedaka, Ricky Nelson, Connie Francis etc They were the idols of teenage schoolboys and schoolgirls. The Chinese radio stations would broadcast a lot of English pop songs besides the Cantonese, Mandarin and Chinese opera songs. Hong Kong printed English pop hits lyrics books which sold like hotcakes. People would just hold the songbooks in their hands and follow the lyrics. They sang the songs in their houses without any music accompaniment. The earliest one was called OK Hit Songs.
In the 60s, another one called Hit Parade entered the market. With better quality printing and guitar chords of the songs, soon it outsold OK Hit Songs. The young pupils who just learnt how to play guitar treated it like treasure. The Beatles had further popularized the impact of English songs to the youngsters. Even though the older people dubbed these "Yeah Yeah sound Beatles" as Four Crazy Guys, but the young people just couldn't care less.
Bands were formed and they were given chance to show their talent by playing at school parties.The Tea Dance as well as compete in talent shows or the more mature groups, participated in Battle of the Bands in order to prove who are the actual champions. Out of the numerous bands that formed, those lucky and talented ones were being signed by major record companies like " Diamond " (organized by Polydor and Philips ) and " EMI ". Some released 7" singles as well as albums. Others turned professional and played in nightclubs. Some only stayed at the Tea Dance level and never got the breakthrough.
Yet all had one thing in common. That is, love music, get hip, join in and have fun. Most of the band members were still in their school years. Yet they could squeeze in time to practice, to do recording in studio as well as play on stage. Some even joked that they asked their fans (mostlygirls) to do their homework for them ...... free of charge.
There were lots of talents of different nationality appearing in the Hong Kong band scene in those 6 years. You could find local Hong Kong, Chinese, British, Swedish,Macanese/Portuguese, Philippinos, Singaporeans and Indians among others. Among all the famed bands, there were no boundaries. As long as they played a great tune, they would be accepted. Most of the great names were under the moniker of the "Diamond" label. You had Teddy Robin The Playboys, Mystics, Joe Jr. & The Side Effects, Anders Nelson & The Inspiration, Fabulous Echoes, Danny Diaz & The Checkmates, D'Topnotes, Lotus, Mod East, Magic Carpets, Menace to name a few.
They were the hippest and coolest names of those days. On the other side, EMI were the second major home for these young talents. However, as EMI were concentrating on their Mandarin (big linkage with the Shaw Brothers Hong Kong Movie company) songs market, plus their conservative policies in promotion of artists, those who joined "EMI" were relatively less active and less successful in the market. Even with this handicap, they still had Thunderbirds, whose lead singer Robert Lee, was the brother of Kung Fu mega star Bruce Lee, Thunders (from Macau, the only band that successfully crossed over to Hong Kong in the 60s), The Reynettes who were a Filipino brother and sisters group), The Quest from Singapore who were one of the great bands of the 60s era. For a while they were stationed in Hong Kong and Mr. Rainbow which they released as a single was No 1 in Hongkong in 1968. Others were Bar Six, Roman & The 4 Steps plus two fantastic female singers, Marilyn Palmer and Irene Ryder.
All in all, it was really quite an astonishing scene. Those bands normally would choose the most
updated hits from UK or USA to do a cover version. Most of the time, through the record company's recommendation, they would get hold of an obscure track from abroad and make it an instant success in Hong Kong. Furthermore, sometimes there would be a few self composed songs thrown in, which made the whole package even more convincing. They caused their fans (especially females) to scream at their shows and the Tea Dance became the most popular weekend gathering for all the youngsters.
What was " Tea Dance "?
It was a weekend afternoon dance party with a live band playing. The venue would be night club or Chinese restaurant. The whole package would include a drink as well as snacks. After paying an entry fee, the fans would be able to see their favorite band playing live and they could dance and scream the whole afternoon. Some even would find their chosen one and start an affair. Tea dances were held everywhere in Hong Kong and Kowloon in those few frantic years. All the night clubs and restaurants needed to book bands to appear in their venues. In return, more bands formed and had a chance to earn income to carry on with their musical adventures.
All good things have an end. For the Band Scene in Hong Kong, 1969 was a cross road year. Many bands were starting to fade out or disband. The bubble seemed like to burst all of a sudden. There were many reasons for this. Society changed. The people riot in Hong Kong in 1967 caused the Chinese to care a lot more about their own identity. The music scene around the world changed. The Psychedelic Drug Sound plus Heavy Rock Sound were in the forefront to replace the earlier innocent and poppy band sound.
Most important of all, most of the band members had finished their high school. They had to decide what would be their future. The majority of them did not believe that music could bring them fame and fortune. Although it had been great fun for a number of years, they all decided to give it up. Move abroad to carry on studying in the university. Or tried their luck elsewhere. Side Effects, Thunderbirds, Mod East , Magic Carpets disbanded, Fabulous Echoes went elsewhere,Menace disbanded, Mystics no more.
In the 1970s, Teddy Robin, Joe Jr, Sam Hui (of Lotus) all became solo singers and had a different fate. There were other new bands popping up. Wynners, Jade, Fantastics, New Topnotes etc, etc Yet the glory days were long gone. The scene was relatively quiet and stale. In the mid 1970s, Sam Hui single-handedly invented a new Canto-pop market. It proved to be very successful in the coming years thus all but putting the final nail in the coffin of the so called "Golden Band Era of Hong Kong".
Full name Jose Marie Rodrigues, his grandfather was Portuguese. Once having lived in Macau, Joe, however, was born in Hong Kong and always a Hong Kong native. In 1963, he was one of the top winners of the New Star Talent Contest. His early favourite pop singer was Paul Anka. His first band was called Hunters and afterwards Topnotes. Zoundcrackers, however, proved to be his break through band. They were spotted by Diamond label and released their 1st seven inch single titled Once Upon A Time backed with No No No No in 1965. The second single I Gotta Find Cupid backed with I Only Came To Say Good Bye came out in 1966 and was very popular.
A gentle beat pop combo with a bright future, however, an argument caused the band to break
up. New members were brought in to rush release a third single A Letter backed with Bad To Me under the changed name of Joe Jr. & The Side Effects. In 1967, Joe Jr. discovered a ballad from a British band Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich "7" with the B side called Here's A Heart. It was released as the A side of Joe Jr. & The Side Effects new single. This piano driven sentimental ballad proved to be his most successful single in Hong Kong ever. Seven weeks consecutively at the top of Hong Kong RTHK pop chart.
Joe Jr & The Side Effects together with Teddy Robin & The Playboys became the two most popular bands under the moniker of the Diamond label. They were teenage idols which caused fans to go haywire whenever they were on stage. While Teddy Robin was having a wild rock/pop image. Joe Jr was just getting sweeter and sweeter. The first long play album Effective was released with great success and soon followed by another album called Tribute which contained cover versions of Joe Jr beloved Cliff Richard songs. Things seemed to be running smooth for Joe Jr. at this stage.
even the demise of Side Effects after Tribute album didn't caused much concern to the fans.
Joe Jr became a solo singer and kept on releasing hit singles and popular albums like The Voice of Love. He kept his style of being a "Boy Next Door" gentle pop singer in the early to mid 70s, regardless of how heavy and sophiscated the Rock and Pop world would become. His clean
image and gentle songs could bring him some chart success every now and then. However he had started to lose momentum. From 1975 onwards, the language of choice evolved from English back to Cantonese. This was accepted by the new generation of youngsters. It spelt the end the English pop song market in Hong Kong as well as the end of Joe Jr. glory days.
The late 70s, the 80s as well as early 90s were not good days for him. He kept on singing. Only in night clubs and lounges. Or any place that would offer him a chance to sing. No more new record company releases. The glory Diamond days were long gone. His singing business had entered a dark hole. Then in the 90s, he got a chance to make some guest appearances in movies in Hong Kong as a supporting artist. This proved to be the new turning point of his career. Supporting roles in TV drama series followed. He found a new agency to represent him and re-built his image as an English oldies singer cum middle aged comic actor.
He got more chances to appear on TV shows and received recognition. This encouraged him to re-recorded his famous old tunes and released them on cd in the Hong Kong market. These activities will not make him the flavour of the month once again, but at least he was being treated much better now than it was during those 70s and 80s dark days.
Looking back, Joe Jr was never a music innovator or Rock prototype singer. He will always be remembered as a gentle, sweet and nice boy next door English Pop singer. The 1960s Cliff Richard of Hong Kong. His 60s band Zoundcrackers as well as Side Effects will always be remembered for their sugary pop instrumental backing for him in those glory days. They were part of Hong Kong 60s pop golden memories.
The interview was done on a cold and windy winter night in Macau. The date was 9th February 2001. The venue was the Macau Culture Center backstage.
Q: Joe, can you tell us about about your relationship with Macau ?
Joe: My grandfather used to lived in Macau a long long time ago. My family name was Rodrigues. In Macau, there is even a road under this Portuguese name. I used to joke with the others that my family used to own this street. Afterwards, our family moved to Hong Kong. I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hong Kong.
Q: When did you realise that you had singing talent ?
JOE: I loved to sing since I was a kid. When I was still in my early school years, one Christmas, my class teacher asked me to come up and sing in front of my schoolmates. I stepped out and sing Pat Boone's April Love. I think that was the start of my public singing career. In the early 60s, the one song that I liked to sing most in front of the public was Diana by Paul Anka. It was my favourite song of that time.
Q: Your first recording band was called Zoundcrackers> Why after two singles, was it changed into Joe Jr. & The Side Effects ?
JOE: Around 1966, Zoundcrakers released a single called I Gotta Find Cupid. It was very popular. We got high coverage by newspapers etc. One paper misquoted me or us and published the band name as Joe Jr & The Zoundcrackers. Certain members of the band thought that I deliberately tried to promote myself as the star of the band. So they quit in the
aftermath of this misunderstanding. Only one member stayed together with me. At the same time, record company had urged us to release a follow up single quick in order to keep up the momentum. We found some new members and changed the band's name to Joe Jr. & The Side Effects.
We quickly recorded and released a new single A Letter.
Q: How was Zoundcrackers spotted and signed by Diamond label ?
JOE: That was one year in the early 60s. The Searchers from Liverpool was performing in Hong Kong. Some promoter asked if Zoundcrackers wanted to be the supporting act. Of course, we were overjoyed and right away said yes. After that performance, Diamond label contacted us and all of a sudden we found outrselves recording our first single Once Upon A Time in the studio.
Q: Was it financially rewarding being in a band at that time ?
JOE: It was minimum. Actually as we were young at that time and loved making music so much, we couldn't care less about our income. In the early days, even without payment, as long as somebody gave us the chance to perform, we would not be hesitate and would say yes to anything.
Q: In those days, how many days would the record company set aside for you to record a song ?
JOE: The recording of a song normally took one day. That included the backing tracks. The vocals would be added in the later stage to mix with the singing part from the recording session separately.
Q: Do you still recall the Tea Dance craze of the 60s ? What was it ?
JOE: In the 60s, that was the major weekend event for schoolboys and girls. During the weekend afternoon, the night club will be temporarily changed into a party/dance venue, with bands like us playing live on stage. The young people, as long as they paid the entry ticket fee, they could enter and enjoy a screaming afternoon with drinks or snacks. Many girls that came to the dance were even accompanied by their own servant. When the tea dance finished, they went home with their servants together, They were all very nice fans.
Q: In those days, did the adults look at you guys as band people and how about those fans ? Were they wild ?
JOE: Although there might be the misunderstanding that band people are teddy boys or whatsoever, but the most important thing is actually if you are not like that, basically you will never be like that. My concern was that we are all nice people. We were simply having fun in making the music that we liked for the fans. They were all very nice people, especially the girls, very gentle and most of them were very good students.
Q Do you still recall those Battle of the Sound contests ?
JOE: Yes. That was the event where most of the best and famous Hong Kong bands attended. They performed on stage and according to their performance, the judges would pick out the best one as winner. I remember Danny Diaz & The Checkmates had beaten Teddy Robin & The Playboys in the final round and became the winner. For us, as the record company had tried to build me up as a gentle boy next door singer. We were not rock at all. So, there was no way that we were going to compete with them in event liked this.
Q: What was your fondest memory of your 60s heydays ?
JOE: My proudest moment was the time when I sang Here's A Heart during a concert held in City Hall. At that time, the song was seven weeks at number one in the Hong Kong pop chart. When my fans heard me start to sing this song, they screamed and shouted out my name. I was so deeply impressed and started to have tears in my eyes. It was such a lovely scene.
Q: At that time, many Hong Kong bands would choose some obscure US or UK songs to cover. What was the reason for that ?
JOE: The record company would always place a pile of USA/UK singles or albums in front of us. They asked us to choose from them a few songs to record. They would give us some suggestions but we had the final word on what was to be recorded. Like Here's A Heart. As soon as I heard the song, I sensed that this would be the right track for me. I had really found a great tune. Sometimes it is really strange. A song might never be a hit around the world, but our version can sometimes make it become a hugely successful hit single in Hong Kong.
Q: In the early 60s, there were many professional Filipino bands and musicians working in Hong Kong. Were they successful ?
JOE:Yes. There were a lot. Like the band Satellites. Usually Filipino musicians were highly effective players in technical terms. In those early days, whenever the audience saw Filipinos performing, they would say, " wow! From aboard, must be very good". In a way, our bursting out into the market reminded Hong Kong people that local bands and local young players could also be great.
Q: Many of the 60s Hong Kong bands had regarded Uncle Ray - Ray Codeiro as a fatherly figure to them ? Why was that ?
JOE: At that time, he was a DJ in RTHK. He had his own show to promote Hong Kong bands and their music. He was the manager of Teddy Robin & The Playboys. When I first entered therecording business, my father had asked him to take care of me. Ray gave me a lot of advice. He taught me a lot during that early period. He always invited me to attend his Lucky Dip show. Sometimes he even asked me to be the host of that special day. He assisted a lot of those young bands at that time, so, he was a really important key figure of the whole scene.
Q: Were there a lot of Hong Kong song composer contributing songs to the bands at that time ?
JOE: No, there were not that many. Many were in the Mandarin songs market, but sometimes, the band itself would compose and write their own hit songs. I had once composed a hit song myself A Letter To Susan, and Ricky Fong who was guitarist of the Mystics had also composed a song for me to sing. Nowadays, there were a lot more song writers working in this business than before. The income was considerably higher.
Q In the 70s, the change of music in Hong Kong had caused you dearly. How would you look back at those changes ?
JOE: Trend is like waves. It will keep on coming and going. The waves in the mid 70s had pushed me to a deep end of my career at that time. Even if I could sing Cantonese songs, nobody would like to give me the chance. I was regarded as the old wave. However, as I loved singing all the time, even in my toughest moments, I still kept on singing until today. All the time, I had to keep myself in good health and in good condition. So that when I am having the chance to perform on stage, I can still be confident that I am doing good.
Q: Today, do you still meet those 19602 band members sometimes ? How are most of them now ?
JOE: People like Teddy Robin, he is in movie business. I still meet him all the time. We always have a nice chat together. But he told me that he would not like to sing again anymore. As for the others, some had moved abroad. Some became lawyers. Many had a good and successful life.
Q: Do you wish that one day all your original old recordings can have the chance to be re-issued in cds ?
JOE:If somebody can really do that, it will be really great. But it might be difficult for the Hong Kong market, as Hong Kong is a very commercial and relatively trendy market> There won't be that many people looking backwards all the time. For myself, until today, I still have copies of all my vinyl output kept with me. Even if nobody will love it anymore, I will still love them and treat them as my own treasure.
A few final words.
The 60s band scene, was, no matter how you judge it, a glory period for Hong Kong pop music. Unfortunately, when the cd re-issue craze elsewhere in the world had arouse record companies interests to dig out all the buried treasures from the bygone days, in Hong Kong, the same thing was simply not happening. The only thing we got so far officially was two and a half cd worth of materials issued by Polygram in the early 90s. It was for sure not completed and further more those cds were long deleted as well. From EMI, nothing was ever re-issued in cd
When we realised that for bands as famous as Teddy Robin & The Playboys, Joe Jr & The Side Effects, Mystics, Fabulous Echoes, can't have a single cd re-issue of their old recording appearing in the Hong Kong market, we can only say that it is a tragedy. Something
needs to be done.